All the talk about the schedules of the various clubs notwithstanding, in the end it comes down to winning key games, and Elche and Girona did that last week. And with a nine-point cushion going into this weekend, the illicitanos aren't likely to fall out of first.
Elche host Barcelona B on Friday; neither team has any suspension problems. Barca B typically starts slow on the road--they've scored only 9 goals away in the first half, but 22 in the second. Expect another high-scoring match here, as the baby blaugrana often play, but I expect the good vibes from Sunday in El Madrigal to carry Elche to victory.
Girona host Xerez on Saturday, and this one should be a goalfest for the home side. Xerez are already consigned to the Segunda B, have three points in 2013, and last won a game in November. So Girona have to be full of confidence here. True, Xerez led Elche for much of their game, but Girona are averaging 2.5 goals per home match and no way can I see Xerez scoring more than one.
Alcorcón and Villarreal play the key match this weekend, and again it's an early Sunday kickoff. Of course, both teams gave up leads in important games last week to lose 3-2 on late goals, and so the mental frame of mind of each team will be key in this one. Alcorcon will be without defender Laguardia, Villarreal without defender Musacchio. Alcorcon's home record is excellent, but as we've been saying all season in our podcasts, they are doing it with one-goal wins and at some point, will that end? I have to feel that if one of these clubs can score two goals in this game, that will be enough.
Almeria comes in even with Villarreal on 62 points, Las Palmas 61, Ponferradina 59. Almeria defeated Racing last week, but made heavy weather of it. This week they visit Lugo, in another Saturday afternoon match; true, they have nothing to play for, but as we saw against Villarreal they are enjoying playing at home before supporters who are thrilled with their performance this season. I don't think this will be an easy match for the visitors by any stretch.
Las Palmas play away to Huesca on Saturday.. This one might not be as easy at it appears, given (a) the Pio Pio can play poorly on the road; (b) they are missing Murillo and Nauzet through suspension, two of their regulars. For Huesca, it's now or never. They're six points adrift at the bottom, and will be missing two of their regulars this time too, Carlos Diogo and Luis Helguera. I have to say an away win looks more likely in Huesca than in Lugo this week!
Ponferradina just won't go away. It's been 6 games since they scored more than one goal, and yet they've managed to win three and draw two of those six. Now they go to the Anduva ground to take on Mirandés, who are fighting to stay up. Ponfe's midfielder Jonathan is suspended for this late Saturday encounter. Keep in mind striker Yuri has scored 17 (34%) of Ponfe's goals this season, and he's scored in six of their last nine matches. This looks to be another match where two goals for either side would seal it, and choosing between 1-0, 1-1, or 0-1 is a tough proposition. I guess I would go for the draw.
At the bottom, Racing Santander looks to be falling away into the bottomless Segunda B pit: if they don't win at home against Real Madrid Castilla on Sunday, I fear they are done for. They haven't won at home since March, they've lost their last four games by a goal apiece. Castilla haven't lost in five games and have scored at least two goals in each of them, so it doesn't look good for the home side.
As already noted, Huesca are struggling to stay up, and it's Real Murcia who currently occupy the last relegation spot. They host Sabadell on Saturday, who look to be playing out the string; the Paprika Men showed amazing restraint in only picking up two yellow cards and no reds last week, and I expect they can pick up three points here, one way or another.
Herculés have won three in a row, and a win at Recre would keep them above the relegation froth. Numancia host Guadalajara, and a home win here might stick Guadalajara right back in it, especially if Hercules and Murcia both win. There is one match in the Segunda where little seems to be at stake, and that is in Gijón, where Sporting host Córdoba. After winning six of eight to get on the edge of the promotion fight, Sporting have dropped four of five and are done for. The califas, meanwhile, are playing better now they have little to play for; technically they still have a chance, as they are eight points back of Las Palmas with five games left and own the tiebreaker between them, but their form is too in-and-out to give confidence.
A lot of important matches to keep an eye on this weekend!